More than 280 former senior U.S. diplomats and military leaders rebuked President Donald Trump over his plans to use U.S. military units to control protests across the country in a letter shared with Foreign Policy on Friday. Hundreds of Former National Security Officials Condemn Trump’s Response to Protests:
The participants joined a chorus of high-ranking current and former officials who already have condemned the commander in chief after police forcibly cleared protesters near the White House this week for a photo opportunity.
The letter was drafted by Douglas Silliman, the president’s former ambassador to Iraq; Deborah McCarthy, who served as U.S. ambassador to Lithuania during the Obama administration; and Thomas Countryman, a veteran diplomat who served as the State Department’s top arms control official.
“Many of us served across the globe, including in war zones, diplomats and military officers working side by side to advance American interests and values. We called out violations of human rights and the authoritarian regimes that deployed their military against their own citizens,” the former high-ranking officials wrote. “We condemn all criminal acts against persons and property, but cannot agree that responding to these acts is beyond the capabilities of local and state authorities.”
“There is no role for the U.S. military in dealing with American citizens exercising their constitutional right to free speech, however uncomfortable that speech may be for some,” the signatories added, condemning the use of National Guard helicopters in a so-called “rotor wash” low-flying action against protesters near the White House on Monday night. On Thursday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper ordered as many as 700 soldiers with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division that were on high alert to respond to protests back home, leaving under 1,000 active-duty U.S. troops nearby, mostly from military police units.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy confirmed that Esper had given the 91st Military Police Battalion “vocal instructions” to depart the Washington, D.C., area immediately and that it was the Pentagon’s intention to send home any other remaining troops “as soon as possible.”
“The decision to bring the active forces in on Monday was largely due to the fact that we did not have enough people here,” McCarthy said at a Pentagon gaggle today. “Sunday was an incredibly challenging night for us: The Lincoln Monument was defaced, we had five soldiers hit in the head with a brick, obviously St. John’s was burned. Inside of Lafayette Square, [we] definitely lost control, to the point they were on the north fence.”
Lawmakers and former members of Trump’s own administration, including former Defense Secretary James Mattis, have criticized the White House’s decision to flood the nation’s capital with more than 4,500 National Guard troops—mostly from other U.S. states. Trump has yet to invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act that allows the U.S. military to respond to riots, and active-duty units ordered on standby did not enter Washington, D.C., city limits.
That is because this is not an insurrection:
“The protestors have been peaceful, and last night, the Metropolitan Police Department did not make a single arrest,” Bowser wrote. “Therefore, I am requesting that you withdraw all extraordinary federal law enforcement and military presence from Washington, DC.” Bowser accelerated her protests of Trump’s response on Friday, unveiling a street sign for “Black Lives Matter Plaza” next to the White House after the city hired a crew to paint the adjoining intersection with a stenciled tribute to the movement.
After federal law enforcement agents and military troops lined up for days against protesters outside the White House, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser of Washington responded emphatically on Friday: She had city workers paint “Black Lives Matter” in giant yellow letters down a street she has maintained command of that is at the center of the confrontations.
The mayor renamed the section of 16th Street in front of Lafayette Square where federal officials used chemical spray and smoke grenades on Monday to clear protesters “Black Lives Matter Plaza.”
Now this is the kind of creative peaceful protest that would bring a smile to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In addition to the letter from 280 former senior U.S. diplomats and military leaders above, 89 former defense officials signed this op-ed at the Washington Post today. 89 former Defense officials: The military must never be used to violate constitutional rights:
President Trump continues to use inflammatory language as many Americans protest the unlawful death of George Floyd and the unjust treatment of black Americans by our justice system. As the protests have grown, so has the intensity of the president’s rhetoric. He has gone so far as to make a shocking promise: to send active-duty members of the U.S. military to “dominate” protesters in cities throughout the country — with or without the consent of local mayors or state governors.
On Monday, the president previewed his approach on the streets of Washington. He had 1,600 troops from around the country transported to the D.C. area, and placed them on alert, as an unnamed Pentagon official put it, “to ensure faster employment if necessary.” As part of the show of force that Trump demanded, military helicopters made low-level passes over peaceful protesters — a military tactic sometimes used to disperse enemy combatants — scattering debris and broken glass among the crowd. He also had a force, including members of the National Guard and federal officers, that used flash-bang grenades, pepper spray and, according to eyewitness accounts, rubber bullets to drive lawful protesters, as well as members of the media and clergy, away from the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church. All so he could hold a politically motivated photo op there with members of his team, including, inappropriately, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Looting and violence are unacceptable acts, and perpetrators should be arrested and duly tried under the law. But as Monday’s actions near the White House demonstrated, those committing such acts are largely on the margins of the vast majority of predominantly peaceful protests. While several past presidents have called on our armed services to provide additional aid to law enforcement in times of national crisis — among them Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson — these presidents used the military to protect the rights of Americans, not to violate them.
As former leaders in the Defense Department — civilian and military, Republican, Democrat and independent — we all took an oath upon assuming office “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” as did the president and all members of the military, a fact that Gen. Milley pointed out in a recent memorandum to members of the armed forces. We are alarmed at how the president is betraying this oath by threatening to order members of the U.S. military to violate the rights of their fellow Americans.
President Trump has given governors a stark choice: either end the protests that continue to demand equal justice under our laws, or expect that he will send active-duty military units into their states. While the Insurrection Act gives the president the legal authority to do so, this authority has been invoked only in the most extreme conditions when state or local authorities were overwhelmed and were unable to safeguard the rule of law. Historically, as Secretary Esper has pointed out, it has rightly been seen as a tool of last resort.
Beyond being unnecessary, using our military to quell protests across the country would also be unwise. This is not the mission our armed forces signed up for: They signed up to fight our nation’s enemies and to secure — not infringe upon — the rights and freedoms of their fellow Americans. In addition, putting our servicemen and women in the middle of politically charged domestic unrest risks undermining the apolitical nature of the military that is so essential to our democracy. It also risks diminishing Americans’ trust in our military — and thus America’s security — for years to come.
As defense leaders who share a deep commitment to the Constitution, to freedom and justice for all Americans, and to the extraordinary men and women who volunteer to serve and protect our nation, we call on the president to immediately end his plans to send active-duty military personnel into cities as agents of law enforcement, or to employ them or any another military or police forces in ways that undermine the constitutional rights of Americans. The members of our military are always ready to serve in our nation’s defense. But they must never be used to violate the rights of those they are sworn to protect.
See the op-ed for the list of signatories and their titles.
I want to emphasize how extraordinary this is: never before in our history has the U.S. military and diplomatic corps been compelled to publicly rebuke a sitting president on this scale for his malicious desire to cross a line into using the U.S. military for his own political ends domestically against peacefully protesting American citizens. These are the senior leaders who do their jobs without commenting publicly. The fact that they feel compelled to do so now should make you heighten your senses to just how dangerous this president is.
Donald Trump is the greatest threat to our constitutional liberties and freedom. He is a tyrant who wants to be an autocratic dictator.